Yassamin Ansari epitomizes the American Dream.
A first-generation American and Arizonan who is the child of Iranian Immigrants, Ms. Ansari has been devoted to serving others since she tutored Somali refugee children as an elementary and middle school student.
A graduate of Stanford and the University of Cambridge with degrees in International Relations, Ms. Ansari has interned for Speaker Nancy Pelosi, helped people from war-torn Syria lingering in refugee camps in Jordan, worked on climate change issues at the United Nations, and advocated for sustainability, gun safety and increased public school measures in Arizona.
She has been cited by Forbes for being one of 30 champions under the age of 30 leading in law and policy.
Ms. Ansari would now like to bring her experience and devotion to public service to District Seven in the Phoenix City Council.
District Seven includes all or parts of Southern and Central Phoenix.
It is currently represented by Michael Nowakowski. He is term-limited and will not run again.
As of March 20, 2020, Ms. Ansari will run against five other candidates for the District Seven seat.
She graciously took time to explain her reasons for running, qualifications for the City Council, and goals for improving life for the citizens of Phoenix and moving them into the future.
The questions and her responses are below.
- Why would you like to be a member of the Phoenix City Council?
“As an Arizona native and a District 7 resident, I have seen up close how our community is deeply vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. This is why I have dedicated my life’s work to combat the global climate crisis.”
“Here in Phoenix, we are experiencing some of the worst air pollutions in the country, deadly heatwaves, dangerous wildfires, and drought. By breathing dirty air every day, we are putting our health and lives at risk as Phoenicians. District 7 residents face the brunt of this, as environmental racism has been a rampant issue here since before I was even born.”
“Now, it’s up to us to decide what kind of city we want to live in. I’m running for Phoenix City Council in District Seven because I refuse to accept the status quo. I’m running for City Council to fight for the resources that our community needs and deserves.”
“My vision for Phoenix is a city that is sustainable and inclusive. A city where our children can breathe clean air and drink clean water. A community where every resident—regardless of where they were born, the color of their skin, or who they love—has equal opportunity and access to quality jobs and a living wage. A city where residents of all backgrounds feel safe and protected by law enforcement. A city where every single one of us can succeed and thrive.”
“I intend to work tirelessly for District Seven residents and all Phoenicians to build the most sustainable, inclusive, and progressive city in the country—together.”
- Please tell the reader what are at least two qualifications that make you ideal for the Phoenix City Council-Seventh District.
“First, my unique professional background working on one of the world’s most pressing challenges: climate change. I have dedicated my career to combating the global climate crisis, previously serving as the youngest member of the United Nations Secretary-General’s climate action team. I have worked with countless cities, states, companies and national governments, as well as colleagues and leaders from over 150 countries, to reduce carbon emissions and protect the planet.”
“As a result of this experience, I thrive and excel when it comes to building coalitions and consensus amongst diverse stakeholders with multiple viewpoints. There is an incredible diversity of views represented on the Phoenix City Council today, and in order to be successful and get things accomplished, I will have no choice but to pursue radical collaboration. And this is my strength.”
“My vision for District 7 and the City of Phoenix is rooted in my background as a first-generation American and in my youth. My parents fled their home country of Iran in the 1970s, and like many in our community, they came here in search of the American dream. Unfortunately, that dream is now out of reach for far too many working families in our community. What we need now are young, fierce, innovative leaders who are not afraid to challenge the status quo, even when it may be politically risky. I am that leader. And I am convinced that my youth is an incredible asset that will help bring about the change our community needs.”
- In your opinion, what are the three strengths of the City of Phoenix and in the seventh district?
“Phoenix is a fantastic place to move and live for many reasons, including our diversity, our expanding public transportation system, and our rapidly growing economy.”
- “Diversity. Phoenix, and District Seven, in particular, is incredibly diverse. We have residents from a wide variety of cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds. This has led to the creation of many new small businesses in District Seven including Fair Trade Cafe, Azukar Coffee, and Tres Leches, that add significant value and culture to our community.”
- “Public transportation. Our expanding light-rail system means that more Phoenicians have access to affordable public transportation than ever before. As the fifth-largest and fastest-growing city in the country, it is imperative that we continue to focus on clean, affordable, and accessible public transportation for all of our residents.”
- “A growing economy. Beyond our rapidly growing tech and business communities, Phoenix is constantly adding more amenities that make this city an incredible place to live. New restaurants, cafes, bars, parks, and activities are popping up every day, attracting young talent from across the country.”
- In your opinion, what are three areas that warrant improvement in the City of Phoenix and in the seventh district?
- “Our plans to address climate change. Phoenix is on the frontlines of the climate crisis. We’re breaking heat records year after year, with 182 heat-related deaths in Maricopa County in 2018 alone. As a result, droughts have become even more intense, and water scarcity is a serious issue for the future of Phoenix and the state of Arizona. Climate change has also exacerbated the frequency of wildfires in our state, with the 10 biggest fires in our state’s history happening since 2002.”
“With high temperatures, freeways running through our communities, and garbage transfer stations located here, District Seven is a runaway hotspot for air pollution. While Phoenix received a 2019 ‘F’ rating for air quality, the very worst air quality in the Valley pollutes the streets of South and West Phoenix. The impact of this concentrated pollution in our district is devastating, and the hardest hit are our most vulnerable neighbors: children and senior citizens. With our community having some of the highest asthma rates in the Valley, the lives of our friends and loved ones are literally at stake.”
- “Jobs & Economic Development. Unfortunately, District Seven has historically been forgotten and left behind by those at City Hall. And it shows in the fewer highly rated schools, fire stations and hospitals within our boundaries. While the downtown Phoenix area is experiencing rapid growth and development, there are significant parts of the district that are in desperate need of good-quality, high-paying jobs.”
- “Housing Affordability & Homelessness. Phoenix was once known nationally for its affordable homes and rents but unfortunately, many families are getting priced out of the neighborhoods where they grew up.”
“Phoenix experienced 25,000 evictions in 2017, a 12% increase that contributed to a 150% increase in the Valley’s homeless population since 2014. Every night in our city, 6,600 people go homeless, many of them families and children experiencing it for the first time. And for every 100 units of affordable housing needed, Phoenix has only 20.”
- As a councilmember, what are the three most important issues that you would want the Phoenix City Council and Mayoral staff to address?
“The three issues I mentioned above are priorities on my platform, as I think they should be for the City of Phoenix. I have outlined some of my proposed solutions below. My full stances on these issues and others are available on my website at yassaminforphoenix.com/policies. “
- “Climate Action. I am a fierce advocate who is internationally known for my work in the fight against climate change. I served as the youngest advisor on the UN Secretary-General’s climate action team, and no one will fight harder for District 7 to be a safe, sustainable community.”
“I am on the record saying that Phoenix must revise its outdated Climate Action Plan, and must develop a new, ambitious plan that focuses on environmental justice, mobility and public transportation, clean energy, water, zero-emissions vehicles, green jobs, food systems, air quality, and resilience.”
“I believe that every District 7 and Phoenix resident deserves to breathe clean air and drink clean water, and I will fight to protect our environment and create new, good-paying jobs as we transform our city for the better.”
- “Jobs & Economic Development. As a City Councilwoman, I will also bring quality, high-wage jobs to District 7, and work to ensure that residents have equal access to vital city services and resources.”
“Programs like College Depot, which has a proven record of increasing college enrollment among students from low-income families, should be expanded to more locations in communities in south and west Phoenix. We need partnerships with local community colleges like South Mountain Community College and Phoenix College to expand degree programs for high-wage jobs like medical technologies, nursing, and clean energy installation.”
“By continuing to increase funding towards public transit options, including buses, light rail expansion, and highway expansion, we can not only reduce congestion and pollution but also bolster local businesses and economic development in the district. We need to make sure we are leaving space along the new 202 freeway for high-wage jobs that provide economic security to our residents.”
“Further, it is imperative that District 7 have equal access to healthcare and other important resources that will improve our overall quality of life. While canvassing, one resident expressed concern that there is no hospital nearby where she lives, in case of an emergency. As a City Councilwoman, I will fight to ensure that District 7 residents have the same level of access and opportunity as their fellow Phoenicians.”
- “Housing Affordability & Homelessness. No one should experience homelessness in our community, and we can create policies to ensure dignity in our housing programs. To start, we need to build, subsidize, and invest in housing that working families can afford.”
- “Work with developers to guarantee that new development projects in our city include housing units for residents earning low- or minimum wages.”
- “Develop a Housing Trust Fund to support high-quality affordable home-ownership and rental projects.”
- “Work with local non-profits to expand down-payment assistance for first-time homebuyers.”
- “Expand tenant protections and create an advocate and resources for families facing eviction.”
- “Work with regional and non-profit partners to locate new services for homeless individuals in other parts of Phoenix and Maricopa County, improve services for homeless individuals and families in District 7, and reduce the impacts of homelessness in our neighborhoods.”
“I will be a strong voice for housing justice on the City Council, making sure Phoenix begins tackling these issues head-on.”
- What are at least three (one each) plans you would like to implement to make Phoenix and the Seventh District a better place for:
“I’m excited to share that as of Friday, March 20, my full platform is available on our website at yassaminforphoenix.com/policies. Our platform includes issues such as immigrant and racial justice, safer communities, jobs & economic development, among many others.”
a) Phoenix’s Residents
“I believe that all Phoenix workers should be paid a living wage of $15 an hour and be able to earn paid sick leave. No person who works 40 hours per week should struggle to get by or worry about how they are going to be able to pay their bills. “
“For too long, wages have stagnated while the cost of living has increased dramatically. The region’s low wages have resulted in an increase in poverty and homelessness. No one should have to work multiple jobs just to survive.”
“Phoenix rent prices increased 7% last year, while wages will only increase 2-3% next year. The City of Phoenix raised minimum pay for city employees to $15 an hour, and Flagstaff is raising it to $15 city-wide by 2021. Every worker in Phoenix should earn a minimum of $15/hour as well.”
“Just as important is making sure workers at all levels know they can stay home when they’re sick, without worrying about losing their jobs. That’s why I support immediately expanding paid sick leave and family leave, so workers can stay home to care for a sick child or another family member. Given the current pandemic concerns, this benefit is more important than ever before.”
“Across the country, teachers, firefighters, those in the service industry, and other workers have started a movement to demand better working conditions, benefits and wages. Phoenix needs representatives that are active supporters and allies of working families—representatives that will fight for unions, pensions, and a living wage. I will always be a strong ally of working families on the Phoenix City Council.”
b) Phoenix’s Commercial Interests
“In the wake of the COVID-19 global pandemic, the business community in Phoenix is in great jeopardy. As bars, restaurants, gyms and movie theatres across the city and state have had to shut their doors in order to protect the health and safety of the community, countless workers and small business owners are facing dire financial situations. Many are already having to consider closing their doors entirely.”
“Bold action must be taken by the City Council, State Legislator, and the Governor to ensure that the business community is protected during this unprecedented pandemic. Small, family owned-businesses require urgent attention. As a City Councilwoman, I would push for the policies that are being requested directly by the local, small business community. These include but are not limited to:”
- “Financial relief and employee protection. Small businesses should receive up to 6-months of operational expense relief through loan forgiveness and/or no interest capital. With this, small businesses can continue to support their employees during this public health crisis.”
- “Eviction protection. There should be a 6-month moratorium (minimum) on rent requirements under commercial leasing agreements for all small businesses (100 employees or less).”
- “Utility protection. Suspend any and all utility shut-offs for small locally owned businesses (100 employees or less) during the state of emergency.”
- “Revenue protection, including a 6-month moratorium on all payroll and sales taxes for small family-owned businesses.”
c) Phoenix’s Cultural and Educational Centers
“The road to every community’s future runs through its public schools. Arizona is ranked amongst the lowest in the nation for public school funding and that inequity has the biggest impact in schools serving District Seven children. But the City Council has the ability to help.”
- “Create a public-private partnership to help pay for school supplies for Phoenix teachers. No teacher should have to worry about having access to basic school supplies, which are essential to education.”
- “Expand the City’s before- and after-school programs to every public school in District Seven.”
- “Expand access to Head Start and other preschool programs so every 4-year-old has access to a high-quality pre-school experience.”
- “Continue advocating and mobilizing to increase teachers’ salaries so we can be confident that we have high-quality instructors in every District Seven classroom.”
- “Reducing classroom overcrowding and attracting the best educators to our local public schools must be a top priority.”
- “Increase partnerships with local employers and the Maricopa County Community College District to offer more career readiness and certification programs to District Seven residents, including health care, technology, and building and construction.”
“District Seven is a creative and hardworking community. Our teachers and our students deserve better. Yassamin will fight to make sure not a single child, nor a single teacher, is left behind. Because your zip code should never determine the quality of your child’s school.”
“Every student has a right to a quality public education, regardless of immigration status, disability, race, gender, or socioeconomic background. We need to ensure our schools foster inclusivity and equality for all students.”
- Is there anything you would like the voter to know about you that was not addressed in the first five questions?
“I am— in the words of my boss and former UN climate chief Christiana Figueres— a “stubborn optimist.” This means that despite how great our challenges may be, no matter how many times we have to keep trying until we succeed, I will always be relentless until we do.
This optimism is not blind, it does not ignore the enormity of our challenges, and it’s not based on wishful thinking. But it is both stubborn and unyielding and it means I will never stop fighting for our community.”
Yassamin Ansari is a candidate the people of District Seven in Phoenix should consider when deciding who to choose to represent them after November 2020.